#OculusRift launch date getting closer – #VR fans getting frothy for March 28 – an annotated infographic

February 8, 2016

Oculus Rift, the virtual reality headset developed by a subsidiary of Facebook, is taking pre-orders for its hardware, due to ship on March 28.

The level of excitement in the tech sphere can be gauged by the three-hour wait in line at CES 2016 that VR fan boys were prepared to patiently endure, simply for the opportunity to try out a Rift headset.

Think about that: THREE HOURS. That’s like watching two English football matches in full, back to back. Or one Superbowl 50.  Make a note of the time on your clock right now and then stand up and DO NOTHING for the next three hours, other than occasionally shuffling forward a few inches.

At the end of that experience, put on a hat for 10 minutes. After that time, have a friend come and ask you to remove the hat and leave the room. Your time with the hat is over. If you enjoyed wearing the hat, your only options now are to either rejoin the queue and spend another three hours waiting to try the hat on again or plunk down your wedge on a pre-order, so you can purchase a hat all of your own that you can wear any time and no one can come and ask you to take it off.

That’s how crazy VR tech heads are about Oculus Rift.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Oculus Rift: virtual insanity

Oculus Rift: virtual insanity

E&T news weekly #80 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

February 5, 2016

Friday 5 February 2016

Vitali Vitaliev  Vitali Vitaliev, features editor
EasyJet passengers to be served engine water from hydrogen planes

Interesting news. And whereas I am all in favour of alternative energy sourcing, recycling and other things ‘green’, I feel somewhat wary of being offered drinking water which, in the words of easyJet’s head of engineering is “the only waste product from the system”, even if it is entirely clean (according to the same head of engineering). Call me over-fastidious, but I would be reluctant to consume anything labelled as ‘waste’, be it water, or food even – particularly so if the latter is entirely ‘green’ (a rare case when a fairly obvious pun actually works!). Yes, my true worry is that the waste-water example proves contagious and EasyJet (or another low-cost airline) starts serving – or rather selling, for one typically has to pay for snacks on low-cost flights – other plane systems’ by-products as foods, like, say, tar crisps or oil jellies. I wonder if they would be charging passengers for such snacks and how much?

Ageing suit helps Ford engineers think differently

This reminds me of a suit I recently (and rather recklessly) acquired at the clothes section of a popular supermarket in Stevenage, UK (I know I shouldn’t have done it, but the price was irresistible). It did make me – a rather fit 60-year-old – feel like “an unfit 70-year old” indeed. I would be more than happy to advise Ford engineers on the whereabouts of that supermarket which may save them considerable R&D costs. As for me, I had to chuck that suit out and to invest in a new – more expensive – one two weeks after the acquisition. “A greedy person pays twice” runs a wise Russian proverb.

Jonathan Wilson  Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Microsoft trials deep sea data centre powered by tide

You know, I’ve just finished reading a disturbingly fun techno-thriller novel – ‘Whiskey Tango Foxtrot’ by David Shafer – in which some unscrupulous gazillionaire intends to harvest all the data from every individual around the world and then sell it back to them on a ‘data insurance’ plan, a bit like a digital Mob protection racket. Anyway, in that book, the massive data servers required to host all this information are stored out of sight underwater in deep ocean trenches. Imagine my surprise – and faint sense of unease – when I read the headline of this story!

Cuba to launch its first home broadband service

What seasoned travellers have been muttering for years, Cuba is really changing fast. Soon, the world’s abiding impressions of Cuba – gaily painted houses, impressive cigars, battered classic 1950s cars, pulled pork con arroz y frijoles, rural poverty and human rights violations – will be gone forever (not necessarily a bad thing). The country’s state-run telecoms company Etesca has announced it is launching its first broadband internet service for households in two Old Havana neighbourhoods, the colonial heart of the communist island’s tourist attractions. Currently, some Cubans only have a dial-up home service or restricted mobile phone connections that allow access only to state-run email, with broadband legal only for diplomats and employees of foreign companies. Finally, the internet proper is coming to Cuba, sort of. Viva la revolution!

Jade Fell  Jade Fell, assistant features editor
EasyJet passengers to be served engine water from hydrogen planes

As if opening up a chain of 25p food stores wasn’t enough news coverage in one week, easyJet have also announced they plan to let customers consume engine water. The low-cost airline is set to trial a hybrid plane which will capture the energy that is typically lost while braking, and store it in a hydrogen fuel cell for use while taxiing. I know what you’re thinking, there has got to be a downside to this right? Well, apparently the hydrogen battery will create quite a lot of waste, in the form of water. It’s ok though; the thriftsters’ head office came up with the novel idea of serving the water to passengers. Do you think they’ll charge?

Oil spill clean-up solution created from paper-waste aerogel

Researchers in Singapore have developed a biodegradable cellulose-based aerogel made from paper-waste with the ability to absorb oil. Now that, my friends, is the definition of killing two birds with one stone – or, killing no birds, or seals, fish and other marine life, depending on how you look at it. This revolutionary new aerogel is coated in trimethoxy-methylsilane, causing it to repel water and only absorb oil, making it a highly effective method of cleaning up oil spills. What’s more, after the clean-up operation is complete, 99 per cent of the oil can be recovered. I know right, mind blown.

Dickon Ross  Dickon Ross, editor in chief
Health impact of EU car emissions laid bare by post-VWgate study

In one of these weekly news picks recently I argued that the biggest loser in the ‘VWgate’ scandal over Volkswagen’s alleged cheating in environmental emissions testing won’t be the car-buying consumer, the local government enforcing the standards or the company itself – it will be the public – especially the citizens of our cities, young and old, who will have to breathe the more polluted air. But now we know by how much their health will be affected as a university publishes a study quantifying how many ‘life years’ will be lost.

Smart keyboard start-up sold to Microsoft for £174m

Something quite different was quantified this week. Microsoft paid £174m for the startup Swiftkey which has developed AI technology for better text prediction on mobile phones. It sounds like a lot, but is it so much very much when you consider what the technology has saved? It has saved 100,000 years of typing time over 300 million device installations. That’s just 58p for each user saving nearly three hours of typing.

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Ageing suit helps Ford engineers think differently

Yes, the inevitable joke that went round some members of the E&T team when we saw this story and video was that what we really wanted was an anti-ageing suit. Seriously though, you only have to suffer a twinge in your back for a few days as I do from time to time to become acutely aware of how much cars are designed by and for people who are fully fit. Let’s hope that other companies join Ford in helping their designers appreciate the problems that an increasing number of their customers are going to be facing in using their products. Just spending a couple of hours with arthritis-simulating gloves that make it difficult to manipulate elegantly styled control switches ought to give engineers an insight into how usability can be just as important as good looks.

Contact lenses become computer screens with new polymer coating

It’s early days with this sci-fi technology that will leapfrog wearable displays like Google’s ill-fated Glass and allow images to be projected direct to your eyeball via specially coated contact lenses, but I hope someone’s putting as much thought into the safety aspects as they are into the clever electronics. I assume the idea is that you’ll be able to switch whatever you’re watching on and off so it’s not visible when you’re driving or even just walking down the street. Like driverless cars, it’s a breakthrough that’s going to create just as much concern as it is excitement.

Lorna Sharpe  Lorna Sharpe, sub-editor
World’s largest off-shore wind farm to be built in Yorkshire

This caught my eye because I know this part of Yorkshire as a holiday destination – if you’re interested it has some lovely clean, sandy beaches but it’s inclined to be rather chilly. More to the point, though, the news has come not long after reports that the go-ahead for a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point has been delayed because of difficulties finalising the funding package, while the coal-fired Fiddler’s Ferry plant will see three out of four units shut down in just a few months. Britain is going to be in a very sorry position if we don’t get on and build some new capacity to replace what’s closing – and we had better hope that the next few winters are as mild as this one has been.

EasyJet passengers to be served engine water from hydrogen planes

OK, it’s not quite a ‘hydrogen plane’ – it will still fly on standard aviation fuel – but students at Cranfield University came up with this hybrid concept involving a fuel cell, energy recovery on landing and electrically powered taxiing. All credit to EasyJet for trialling the system; let’s hope the knowledge gained will lead to practical commercial applications.

Solar-powered Super Bowl – an annotated infographic

February 5, 2016

The 50th US Super Bowl promises to be the most sustainable in the sporting event’s 50-year history, thanks to the 68,500-seat Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, home of the San Francisco 49ers, and this year’s Super Bowl host.

With 1,150 solar panels and a 27,000 square foot ‘green’ roof, Levi’s stadium is the first NFL stadium to achieve a LEED Gold certification in sustainability, and produces sufficient power to ensure that this year’s Super Bowl will be a net-zero energy game

Picture this – a golden anniversary, in the golden state, powered in part by golden rays of sunshine.

Having trouble? Check out this handy infographic.

Final_Infographic Superbowl_0

.@ESA Ariane 6 rocket starts development – an annotated infographic

February 2, 2016

Airbus Safran Launchers – a joint venture between the aerospace giant Airbus and the aero and rocket manufacturer Safran – has finalised the architecture for its Ariane 6 launch vehicle.

Ariane 6 will be a modular rocket that can be tailored to launch one or two large satellites at a time into low-altitude perches and geostationary orbits favoured by commercial telecoms spacecraft.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Ariane 6 rocket

Ariane 6 rocket

E&T news weekly #79 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

January 29, 2016

Friday January 29 2016

Jonathan Wilson  Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Children now spend more time online than watching TV

Children now spend more time online than they do watching television, according to a new report from research agency Childwise. In a survey covering the views of 2,000 young people aged between five and 16, it was found they now use the internet for three hours a day on average, compared with just 2.1 hours sitting in front of the television. If the children I know are anything to go by, this is indeed the common picture across the country. Is this because TV is mostly unwatchable garbage these days, whereas the internet offers endless amusing diversions? And if you want to watch exactly what you want right now, the internet is your answer. No need to check the TV schedules or wait 45 minute for your entertainment to start. Give it to me now, dagnammit, don’t make me wait. If you make me wait, I’m off. That has increasingly become the mantra for society at large, so why would our children be any different? It is also worth considering that far from being a bad thing, the internet offers myriad educational, learning and training opportunities. In terms of intellectual development and advancement, that beats watching another repeated repeat of The Big Bang Theory in to a cocked hat.

Google Street View reveals secret corners of Cambridge University

A Google Street View tour will allow the public access to private parts of Cambridge University’s colleges usually closed to visitors. The 17th-century Old Library located at the university’s St John’s College, as well as a 14th-century chapel at the Gonville and Caius College, are among the architectural treasures mapped by Google Street View’s Special Collections team last year. If, like many of us, you can’t make it to Cambridge University on academic ability, at least now you can virtually snoop around the hallowed halls to see what you’re missing and without running up a penny in student loan debt.

Rebecca Northfield  Rebecca Northfield, assistant features editor
Smart sock helps diabetics prevent amputation

I never would have thought a sock could be smart. SenseGo, a machine washable-smart sock, is fitted with pressure sensors that pick up on the first signs of foot ulcers, poor blood supply and excessive pressure. They then send the information to your smartphone using an app. This could be really good for diabetics as it would prevent amputations. Diabetes sufferers can get type of nerve damage called diabetic neuropathy; meaning injuries on their extremities can’t heal effectively enough without potential complications – like developments of advanced-stage foot ulcers, which are the leading cause of leg amputation. Israeli engineers wanted to tackle the significant medical problem, and the SenseGo lets the user know about problems their tootsies are going through. My mother has been an insulin-dependent diabetic (Type 1) for over 30 years, so it’s always nice to hear things are happening for the diabetic community and their problems aren’t ignored. Having a diabetic as a parent makes you extremely vigilant about your feet – they’re the things that keep you moving, so look after them the best you can – as well as blood glucose tests every time I feel a little under the weather. My mother is a fantastic woman, so let’s hope the next step is finding a cure, or to make Type 1 more manageable and less gloomy. Type 2 seems to get all the limelight.

Vitali Vitaliev  Vitali Vitaliev, features editor
Children now spend more time online than watching TV

I have a question for the esteemed organises of the survey, quoted in the news story: what if our kids actually keep watching TV while online? Using BBC IPlayer or one of many other similar apps that allow them (and us) to catch up with our favourite TV programmes from the comfort of their/our beds and – let’s face it – sometimes bathrooms too? This is what my own kids certainly like doing. So, in actual fact, our children (and ourselves) are probably watching not less but more TV than ever before. And whereas the attraction of a good old TV set in the corner of the lounge may be diminishing steadily, the appeal of all those multiple ‘TV androids’ (iPhones, iPads, laptops etc.) is definitely on the rise. To paraphrase an old royalist saying, TV is dead – long live TV!

Beijing’s attempts to curb pollution causing mass unemployment

Here we have a classic example of putting a cart in front of a horse, or to be more specific, of trying to solve a problem by dealing with its side-effects rather than causes. Sure enough: the fewer workers there are the less pollution they will create. Theoretically that is, because in reality a handful of people is often enough to cause considerable mayhem. Yet sacking workers produces an illusion that the authorities are trying to deal with the problem, whereas in fact they are happily sitting on their own executive hands. It is they – the bureaucrats, not the workers – who should be sacked and replaced with the people capable of looking at the root of the tree rather than happily chopping off its submissive and uncomplaining branches.

Fourth dimension added to 3D printing

Is this the first real step towards time travel? In the HG Wells interpretation of it, I mean, for, according to the writer’s famous novel ‘The Time Machine’ and its main protagonist the Time Traveller, it was the mysterious ‘fourth dimension’ that represented time and space. In the latter’s theory, time and space were basically the same: as any object (or subject) moves through space, it/he/she also travels through time, that is they live (or, in the case of an object, exist). Who knows… As they say, only time will show (please excuse my unintended pun). But one thing is certain already: we are living though an amazing age when reality is often way ahead of fiction.

Katia Moskvitch  Katia Moskvitch, technology features editor
Electric car uptake in China could worsen smog issue

In our efforts to ‘go green,’ it’s at times possible to forget that what seems like an environmentally-friendly option actually isn’t that environmentally-friendly after all. It’s exactly what’s happening in China. The country, whose greenhouse gas emissions have escalated in the past decade, is now trying to get more people to switch to electric cars. But researchers are saying that the efforts could have the opposite effect because of to the reliance on coal-fired power generation, used to charge electric vehicles. A group of scientists from Tsinghua University has found that electric cars charged in China produce between two and five times more polluting particles than petrol-engine cars. This means that China’s efforts to have eight times more electric vehicles on the road by 2020 than the current number could achieve the opposite result than the country hopes for, if the developments are not paired with an aggressive push for renewable energy generation. China has put in place multiple incentives to encourage people to trade their fossil-fuel powered cars for electric ones. In addition to tax breaks, electric car owners are exempt from limits on the number of new car licenses that are being granted, as well as from restrictions allowing people to use their cars only on certain days of the week if smog levels get too high.

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Wearable sweat analysers for real-time health monitoring
Smart sock helps diabetics prevent amputation
Proximity hat lets blind people ‘feel’ spaces

In the wonderful world of wearable technology, there’s a suspicion that companies are jumping on the band waggon by sticking the word ‘smart’ in front of any garment in which they’ve managed to incorporate even the simplest bit of electronics. Perhaps one day everyone will be wandering around sporting intelligent hats and socks as a matter of course when they’re not using their flying cars, and the clothes will be genuinely useful, not just something that sends a warning buzz to your scalp every time you get a social media notification. (The more dislikes the higher the voltage, maybe?). For now, here are three developments in wearables that meet a genuine need by occupying the assistive technology space. Wrist bands monitor your health, a smart sock keeps an eye on the condition of your feet and a sensor-equipped hat gives blind people a sense of the world around them. Three things we’d probably all agree are more worthwhile than a lot of the funkier garments that are grabbing headlines but aren’t in truth all that useful for anything other than letting the rest of the world know just how cutting edge your wardrobe is.

Jade Fell  Jade Fell, assistant features editor
First driverless shuttle bus launched in the Netherlands

This is the story that a Dutch autonomous six-seat shuttle bus, adorably named the WePod, has become the world’s first driverless vehicle to be allowed on public roads. It’s currently being trialled along a 200m stretch of road in the Dutch town of Wageningen, and, from June this year, will be introduced to transport passengers along a 6km route between the Ede-Wageningen railway and bus station and Wageningen University & Research Centre. Pretty cool huh? The drawback – it travels at 8km/h. Ok, I understand, it’s a new technology and we need to take baby steps, but I am also a massive cynic, and think that the bicycle-crazy Dutch are highly unlikely to opt for a tedious 48-minute journey via autonomous shuttle. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Electric car uptake in China could worsen smog issue

It seemed like such a simple solution: tackle your country’s horrendous smog issue by increasing the number of ‘clean’ electric cars. The problem? Electricity in China is far from clean. A new study has found that electric vehicles charged in China produce between two and five times more polluting particles than petrol-engine cars due to the country’s reliance on coal-fired power generation. This means that China’s attempt to clean up the air by getting eight times more electric vehicles on the road by 2020 could actually achieve the opposite result. Whoops. Looks like it’s time to start embracing the renewables sector, China.

Dickon Ross  Dickon Ross, editor in chief
Driverless trucks could halve costs and improve safety

The first autonomous vehicles to become a common sight on our roads won’t be private cars or cabs carrying passengers but trucks carrying freight because the cost savings are more attractive while speed is less of an issue. That will be bad news for lorry drivers but good news for consumers. There could be savings from fuel because autonomous trucks don’t have to stop to take rests or breaks. They can just keep going all night. Like the tortoise racing the hare, they can still get there first. In several years we will get used to seeing convoys of autonomous trucks trundling slowly but surely all night up our motorways. Slow speeds are easier to implement safely in autonomous vehicles than fast ones. And lower speeds mean more efficient fuel consumption, which in turn means lower emissions.

First driverless shuttle bus launched in the Netherlands

But this is the exception that proves the rule: the first operational autonomous vehicle in the world to be allowed on public roads with no driver is a boring old shuttle bus. But it is limited to going backwards and forwards along a short stretch of the same road.

Taylor announces smart health check system for acoustic guitars

This ‘wired acoustic guitar’ is a humble but very good example of how the development of the Internet of Things means manufacturers in sectors that never before had to worry much about information technology in their products will have to now start making their products smarter with sensors andaccompanyingapps. In the longer run, it will change traditional manufacturers’ business models. Consumers will expect to be told when something needs fixing or adjusting before it needs replacing not afterwards.

E&T’s pick of things to do in February

January 29, 2016

Whether you’re up for a long slog around the halls at a big international trade show or just looking for an entertaining talk to occupy you during a winter’s evening, here’s E&T’s selection of events going on in February.


Mobile World Congress

Barcelona, 22-25 February

The GSMA Mobile World Congress is the mobile comms sector’s big international get together, where the industry gathers every year to talk about the latest technology developments and do business. The conference element features visionary keynotes and thought-provoking panel discussions, alongside an exhibition with more than 2,000 companies displaying the cutting-edge products and technologies that define the future of mobile. The only question is whether MWC 2016 will attract more than the 93,000 visitors who turned up last year.


Electronic Superhighway (2016-1966)

Whitechapel Gallery, London E1 7QX, 29 January – 15 May

This major exhibition brings together over a hundred works that show the impact of computer and Internet technologies on artists from the mid-1960s to the present day. The title is taken from a term coined in 1974 by South Korean video art pioneer Nam June Paik, who foresaw the potential of global connections through technology. Arranged in reverse chronological order, Electronic Superhighway begins with works made at the arrival of the new millennium, and ends with Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T), an iconic, artistic moment that took place in 1966. Along the way, there are new and rarely seen multimedia works, together with film, painting, sculpture, photography and drawing from more than 70 artists spanning half a century.

Tickets from £11.95


Leonardo da Vinci: The Mechanics of Genius

Science Museum, London, 10 February – 4 September

You know Leonardo the artist from paintings including The Last Supper and Mona Lisa – now discover the brilliant, insatiably curious engineer in this internationally-acclaimed exhibition. Investigate both the facts and the misconceptions that surround this great genius of the Renaissance. Was he the period’s only designer of machines? Did all of his designs get fully constructed? Highlights include historical models of Leonardo’s inventions including flying machines, diving equipment and weapons; large-scale reproductions of Leonardo’s famous drawings and sketches; interactive games, and modern examples of bio-inspired robotics, aviation and materials technology.

Tickets £10 (£7 concessions)


IET Annual Dinner

Grosvenor House, London, 18 February

The IET Annual Dinner continues to be the leading engineering and technology networking event of the year, attracting hundreds of attendees, This year’s dinner looks to be bigger and better than ever before, with a new pre-dinner networking drinks reception and the chance to hear from guest speaker, Professor Brian Cox.


Big Bang Data

Somerset House, London, Until 28 February

Emails, selfies, shopping transactions, Google searches, dating profiles: every day we’re producing data in huge quantities. Online activity has led to a radical shift in the volume, variety and speed of data being produced, combined with new techniques for storage, access, and analysis, that is radically reshaping our world. Big Bang Data explores the issues surrounding the ‘datafication’ of our world through the work of artists, designers, journalists and visionaries. As the information explosion accelerates, it asks, do we really understand our relationship with data?

£12.50/£9.50 concessions


The Internet of Me: It’s all about my screens

IET/BCS Turing Lecture UK tour, 22-25 February

This year’s Turing Lecture, which tours the UK in February, is an opportunity to hear the thoughts of Robert Schukai, head of advanced product innovation at Thomson Reuters, about howsmartphone technology has completely revolutionised the way we play, work, and live, and the information challenge that comes with constantly processing and generating so much data. ‘The Internet of Me’ will explore our future in this hyperconnected environment, and how our lives will seamlessly drift into a work-life blur based on a ‘dayflow’ of activity, with Schukai describing the digital trends driving this from both the perspective of both consumers and news providers

22 February 2016 – IET London: Savoy Place

23 February 2016 – University of Cardiff

24 February 2016 – University of Manchester

25 February 2016 – Belfast City Hall

Attendance free, but advance registration is required.


The New Venture Capital Model

St John’s Innovation Centre, Cambridge, 10 February

Are you an early stage company looking for funding? Does your company not fit the tradition model of invest and harvest? Would you like to build a global technology business with significant scale? Do you need help beyond someone showing up at a board meeting to look at your latest management accounts? This event, delivered by Enterprise Europe Network, Bailey Fisher Executive Search and hosted by St John’s Innovation Centre, will explain some of the pitfalls of the traditional venture capital fund model, what to look out for in your investors, and how they can add value to the board and the business.

Free, advance registration required


 A measured approach to decision-making

The Adelaide pub, Park Road, Teddington, 3 February

Real-world measurements inform decision making in engineering, construction, computing, communications, medicine and much more. How can we be confident that the measurements we use can be relied upon? Might we obtain a different result if someone else made the measurement, or if it was made at a different time? Would it make any difference if it did? This talk, organised by the IET London Region, will look at the difference between calibration and testing, at metrological traceability and uncertainty in measurement, and consider the significance of possible measurement errors in final test and calibration results. Speaker Peter Kelley began employment in small manufacturing industry before joining the National Physical Laboratory, and has gone on to become senior metrologist at the National Weights & Measures Laboratory, audit measurement officer at the National Measurement Accreditation Service, then an assessment manager in its successor, the United Kingdom Accreditation Service. Now retired, he remains active in consultancy and UKAS commercial training.


London’s new megaport

Novotel London West, Hammersmith International Centre, London, 16 February

Another London Region event in February provides an update on the DP World London Gateway Port and Logistics Park, London’s newest deep-sea container terminal, from the site’s communications officer Matt Abbott. Building the facility, equipped with robot truck and train loaders and some of the world’s largest quay cranes, involved dredging a 100km channel in the River Thames to allow the world’s largest container vessels to dock just 25 miles from the centre of London.


Integrated Systems Europe

RAI Centre, Amsterdam, 9-12 February

Europe’s biggest AV trade show promises to deliver an unprecedented experience in 2016 through a wide-ranging programme of events, conferences and innovative new features. A first for ISE 2016 is the launch of a Drone Arena that will welcome leading drone manufacturers and feature a daily programme of education and practical demonstrations. Another innovation is the launch of the Dolby Atmos Immersive Theatre, demonstrating the breathtaking audio that can be delivered for music, music videos and movies.


 Southern Manufacturing & Electronics

Farnborough, 9-11 February

The event that claims to be the UK’s largest regional manufacturing technology, electronics and subcontracting exhibition returns with thousands of engineering & electronics solutions and a full programme of free technical seminars. See the very latest technology, components, materials, products and services available in the South of England, with technical staff on hand to offer specialist advice.


 1940s Boutique

Bletchley Park, Milton Keynes, 6 February

If you’ve had trouble convincing the whole family that a trip to Bletchley Park to find out about wartime codebreaking and maybe visit the National Museum of Computing would be enjoyable, how about suggesting this day of 1940s glamour. There’ll be chances for visitors who find that more interesting than the techie stuff to learn how to style their hair and make-up to achieve that iconic wartime look. The day-long workshop is run by vintage stylist Sarah Dunn of Sarah’s Doo-Wop Dos and participants learn some social history about how the squeeze of rationing and post-war austerity measures prompted ever-more ingenious methods of self-beautification.

Tickets £70


#StarWars #TheForceAwakens officially does Quite Well at the box office – an annotated infographic

January 27, 2016

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” has overtaken “Avatar” as the top grossing film in U.S. box office history. Yes, this graphic is already out of date. Apparently the space one passed the blue dudes one in the first week of January and hasn’t shown much sign of slowing down worldwide since then.

Not much more to add to that really: the numbers speak for themselves. Not many old films there, eh? Only Titanic comes from the last century. We’re tempted to add that there aren’t many truly great films on this list, either, but far be it from us to offer any critical analysis of the movie-going general public’s taste.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Movie magic

Movie magic


Book Review: Fardwor, Russia! A Fantastical Tale of Life under Putin – Oleg Kashin

January 22, 2016

By Jade Fell

“I predict we will abolish suffering throughout the living world. Our descendants will be animated by gradients of genetically pre-programmed well-being that are orders of magnitude richer than today’s peak experiences.” ― David Pearce


Translated by Will Evans, Restless Books, 12 January 2016, 224 pp, ISBN 978-1-632060-39-6, £9.99 paperback

Oleg Kashin is a rather notorious Russian journalist whose open criticism of the Putin government may or may not have motivated unknown assailants to beat him to within an inch of his life back 2010. You’d think such an event would put the dampeners on a guy, but apparently Kashin was undeterred and returned full force to publish his first work of fiction, Fardwor, Russia! A Fantastical Tale of Life Under Putin, in Moscow, just two months later. Now, in a new edition translated by Will Evans, Fardwor, Russia! has been made available for international audiences with a taste for controversial political satire. The ridiculous sci-fi dystopia nestled within the garish pink cover bares more than a slight similarity to Russia under Putin and, with new stories of corruption in the Kremlin making the front page of international news sites each month, it has never been more topical.

The main protagonist of Fardwor, Russia! is Karpov, an enthusiastic young scientist who, with the help of his deceased grandfather, invents a revolutionary new growth serum that actually works. In an old wooden shack, which serves as a makeshift laboratory, Karpov spends his days experimenting on common sewer rats and creating unspeakable monstrosities, while his long-suffering wife, Marina, sits mournfully in their dusty apartment lamenting a life left behind in Moscow.

Delighted with his results, Karpov begins offering the serum to local farmers, promising fully grown livestock in exchange for new-born piglets and calves, before tracking down a circus midget. Unfortunately for poor, deluded Karpov he is wholly unequipped to deal with the full force of his discovery, and before he can reap any rewards all hell breaks loose. The meat industry is furious with the prospect of cheap meat resulting from an abundance of livestock; a dwarf oil oligarch makes use of the serum before running away with Karpov’s wife; and a giant cat goes on a rampage and eats a man’s face and heart. But it is not until the professional scientists get hold of the serum that things get really ugly.

Fardwor, Russia! is wonderfully strange and fantastically frightening, a gruesome yet hilarious tale of genetic engineering gone awry, combined with a grim political parable of the danger of power in the wrong hands. A ludicrous satire with a serious twist – Fardwor, Russia! is a must read those with an interest in Russian politics, or fans of science fiction that borders on the ridiculous.


E&T news weekly #78 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

January 22, 2016

Friday January 22 2016

Jack Loughran Jack Loughran, news reporter
Robots to trigger widespread redundancies by end of decade

Robots are increasingly being presented in the same negative tabloid light that is sometimes shined on immigrants. Comin’ over ‘ere, stealing our jobs etc etc. Personally I see the move towards robotics taking the place of humans in mundane repetitive roles as solely a good thing; society just needs to accommodate the change rather than be fearful of it. We’re heading closer to the utopian (depending on who’s talking) ideal of complete automation for all tasks not strictly requiring a human brain to operate. When tractors were invented, some less progressive people probably bemoaned the number of jobs lost, but if we listened to them, we’d all still be subsistence farmers working 16 hour days doing backbreaking labour to feed our families. As more and more people lose their jobs to robots, there will be simply less work that is needed to be performed by humans. This can be solved in two ways. It would seem sensible to simply divide the essential jobs that are left between everyone so that most people only have to work for 20 hours or so a week, leaving lots of other time for creative endeavours or simply basking in the wonders of modern entertainment. Unfortunately I instead foresee a bunch of pointless jobs being created to replace the ones now being done by robots. Technology journalist, for example.

Vitali Vitaliev Vitali Vitaliev, features editor
Cyber-attack on Kiev airport prompts security review

Some people – and countries – never seem to learn from the past. If Russia is indeed behind all the cyber attacks on Ukraine (as if annexing a chunk of the latter’s territory, cutting off gas supplies and unleashing a proxy war in Donbass weren’t enough of a punishment), it is repeating the mistake of several years ago when Estonia – a small but proud ex-Soviet republic – was targeted in a similar way. Such attacks were pursuing a double aim – to destabilise and to intimidate – yet in the case of Estonia they had achieved quite the opposite; the small Baltic country consolidated its cyber defences and became the world’s leader in the fields of cyber security and e-governance. So whoever was behind the attacks had pretty much shot themselves in the foot. Instead of punishing the rebellious nation, they have actually rewarded it with new technological know how and the powerful stimuli for further infrastructure developments. Instead of weakening the maverick neighbour, they have made it much stronger – another proof of Newton’s Third Law of Motion (“force breeds counterforce”) applied to geopolitical structures. “It is worse than a crime – it is a mistake,” as the 18th century French diplomat Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord famously remarked. Will they ever learn?

Twitter suffers longest outage in its history

Now I know the reason behind the eerie silence I was exposed to when venturing into my garden first thing on Tuesday morning. The birds, who normally – and notwithstanding the season – chirp their little lungs out at this time of the day, were not singing. Nor were they  cheeping, twittering, chirruping, cheeping, chattering, trilling or (most importantly) tweeting – out of solidarity with the temporarily ‘outed’ Twitter website, no doubt. Here I have to disagree with social media expert Warren Knight, quoted in our news story as saying that this short outage makes Twitter (the website) more human. After experiencing that deafening silence of birds in my garden on Tuesday morning, I would rather say that the outage (what a dull little word) made Twitter much more avian than ever before. At least to my Twitter-deaf ears (for I had never received a tweet or tweeted myself) it did.

dominic-lenton Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Technology in education ‘not a replacement’ for teachers

It may be superficially a case of another politician saying something that sounds forthright, but is anodyne enough for everyone will agree with, but Education Secretary Nicky Morgan’s reminder that technology is no replacement for good teachers deserves closer analysis. Invoking one t-word – ‘traditional’ – to describe what the government believes is the right approach to teaching young people and contrasting it with another – ‘technology’ – suggests there’s some muddled thinking going on at the highest levels. Why should the two be mutually exclusive, with the sort of tech on display at the Bett event in London where she was speaking being regarded as a substitute for acquisition of ‘knowledge’, which the current administration believes doesn’t get enough attention? Yes, classroom gadgets can appear to be engaging kids in learning simply because they’ve got a novelty value. Let’s not forget though that today’s schoolchildren will grow up and work in a world where this sort of technology is an everyday part of life, and getting to grips with it – not to mention working out how best to take advantage of the opportunities it provides to avoid learning things by rote – should be embedded in the curriculum. At the same time, Morgan’s point that it won’t replace actual teachers is understandable, considering she was speaking to a large audience of them, but surely their role will have to change as much as it has since Victorian schoolmasters and mistresses stood at a chalkboard and did all the talking to a passive  – and probably bored – class. From the random sample of people I know in the teaching profession, I’m sure they’ll be enthusiastic about engaging with this challenge and the changes it’ll bring to their jobs. What Morgan and other politicians need to move away from is establishing the debate about how this happens in terms of one thing replacing another. Just like we’re supposed to tell the kids, it’s all about working together to achieve the best outcome for everyone.

Rebecca Northfield Rebecca Northfield, assistant features editor
Twitter outage caused by faulty software update

Oh no! This must have caused a state of mass panic in the social networking world! The longest outage in Twitter history – about six hours – was allegedly caused by a faulty software update, which was eventually removed to get Twitter back to normal. The Twitter folk managed to fix the internal code change in the late afternoon of Tuesday. One wonders how many people felt like lost souls as they tried desperately to hashtag their feelings about the inability to tweet. They even had problems signing in, poor dears. The glitch affected tweeters in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and North America and caused the company to lose 7 per cent of their shares. Ouch. Twitter is struggling to keep up with the bad boys, Instagram, who surpassed 400 million users last year. Poor old tweety bird only has 300 million, with 2015 their slowest user growth year to date. Shoot the bird? Or sell it to Facebook like everyone else?

Renault recalling 15,000 vehicles over emissions breaches

Whoops. Looks like another vehicle manufacturer is in trouble. Renault has started recalling 15,000 vehicles to modify the engines to ensure they’re following emissions regulations. Tests on some of the models showed unacceptable levels of nitrogen oxide, although there was an announcement last week that there was no evidence of ‘defeat devices’ in Renault vehicles. The recall will involve adjusting the filtration systems. Luckily, the cars haven’t been put up for sale yet, so that’s one thing above VW.

Katia Moskvitch Katia Moskvitch, technology features editor
2015 warmest year on record

Global warming is happening – and 2015 is yet another proof of it. According to NASA and NOAA, last year was the warmest one in history, with global average temperatures 0.9  degrees C higher than the 20th century average and 0.16 degrees C above 2014 values, which had set the previous record. Both organisations have called for a more urgent action to mitigate the effects of greenhouse gas emissions. The temperature rise in 2015, the scientists believe, was partly driven by the El Niño effect that warms the surface of the Pacific Ocean every two to seven years. However, the researchers said that the main drivers are growing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere – a result of burning fossil fuels.

Jade Fell Jade Fell, assistant features editor
Rise of robots may worsen social inequality

Here’s some terrible news for you – I am at risk of being replaced by a robot. In fact, we all are. While in the past it was just those on production lines that worried about robots stealing their jobs, the rise in increasingly sophisticated ‘thinking’ robotics means that more and more roles are at risk, including those in industries previously considered safe, such as journalism. Now normally I’m all for robots – you know, when they’re cute, non-threatening and designed to make the world a better place – but this I take issue with.

VR tour of Buckingham Palace accessible on YouTube

You know what I’ve always wanted? To be able to stand perfectly still, and look around the rooms of Buckingham Palace from the comfort of my own home. And now I can, thanks to a new, freely available virtual reality tour on YouTube. Good show!

Lorna Sharpe Lorna Sharpe, sub-editor
Nissan invests in UK electric car battery manufacturing

In recent years the north-east of England has become a centre of expertise for electric vehicles, with Nissan’s Sunderland operations making a significant contribution. I’ve been somewhat sceptical about some of the grander predictions for how fast private motorists will take up electric cars, but there’s no doubt at all that battery vehicles can work well in a lot of corporate fleets, where they don’t travel long distances and aren’t needed overnight – so long as the economics are right. If this new investment leads to batteries that are cheaper to produce and last longer it will be a big step in the right direction.

2015 warmest year on record

This is definitely worrying news. I’m old enough not to attach too much significance to a couple of warmer or colder years, but there’s no doubt from these figures that the trend is upwards and we need to take the implications seriously – both for how we adapt to change and how we can stop making things worse. We have a responsibility individually and collectively to look after the world we live in.

Dickon Ross Dickon Ross, editor in chief
Pakistan lifts YouTube ban

It used to be said that the web knew no borders and couldn’t be censored or blocked in the way traditional print and broadcast media could. That may still be technically true in that if users are determined to find ways around government restrictions they may well be able to do so, but it won’t always be straightforward and it may be dangerous if they can be traced. China has long restricted its citizens’ access and even struck deals with western companies that allows it to do so. Now Pakistan, which shut out YouTube following protests over anti-Islamic videos, is allowing the country-specific site back in with provisions to take out videos it objects to. It may not be able to stop all access to banned videos in the country but it will certainly limit traffic from casual users.

Which? claims 95 per cent of diesel vehicles breach NOx emissions

We have known that diesel cars are more polluting than they should be since the scandal broke over Volkswagen cheating in NOx emissions tests. Thanks to the consumer group Which? we now know how much they are over the limits- and the numbers are quite shocking. The real losers though are not the owners of diesel cars but the people living and working in our polluted cities. For that reason, the cheating is much worse than the sports cheats in athletics, cycling or tennis because it affects our health and our childrens’ health. Whoever was at fault in the companies concerned, it’s a pity that an engineer in one of them – or elsewhere in a position to know how the public were being cheated – wasn’t prepared to turn whistleblower to expose the cheating before the companies were caught out.

Orange amps launch orange Orange O Edition headphones at #NAMM2016 Mmm… Orange!

January 21, 2016

Guitar amp dudes are certainly diversifying their product lines in new and unusual ways these days. Marshall has gone sideways in to sunglasses and mobile phones. Announced today at the mammoth musical new-gear bazaar that is the NAMM trade show in sunny Anaheim, California, Orange is now going toe-to-toe (ear-to-ear?) with Marshall’s headphone tie-up with Zounds (the Swedish company behind the UrbanEars range of cool ‘phones) by releasing its own range of skull-shaking ear goggles.

O: super, man

O: super, man

The O Edition Headphones (as no one in their right mind will be calling them when asked where they bought them) have been designed to deliver superior audio performance and comfort, whilst capturing the very essence of Orange.

O: I do like to be beside the seaside

O: I do like to be beside the seaside

According to the press release, “40mm drivers have been engineered for a tight and rhythmic bass response, rich mid-range and an articulate top end. A purposefully neutral EQ response makes for an open and revealing sound stage with detailed layers of separation. With natural noise isolation courtesy of cushioned closed-back earcups, the ‘O’ Edition headphones create a truly immersive sonic experience to suit all musical needs.

Much like Orange’s world-famous guitar and bass amplifiers, these headphones are constructed to the highest specifications, whilst the styling blends British elegance with a reassuring solidity. A subtle black-on-black Orange logo embossed across the padded headband and the iconic Orange Crest etched into the brushed stainless steel headband signify an unwavering commitment to quality.”

In the box are three 3.5mm cables: one with a remote control and integrated microphone (compatible with most smartphones) and a carry case.

O: you!

O: you!

Orange also used NAMM to debut its tangle-free Twister Cable, the guitar cord that won’t bind up on you as you groove your thang.

The patented Twister Module rotates freely and prevents cables becoming knotted. Signal transmission is through the highest grade oxygen-free copper wire, achieving the same performance as Orange’s Professional Cable range.

The Twister Cable also features tough nylon sleeving and Neutrik connectors and is available in ¼” instrument or balanced XLR configurations.

Check ’em all out at the Orange website.

World of un-twist

World of un-twist


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